“You lied to me!” I explode, anger squeezing my eyes shut as I back away from him. “You lied to me all this time, you’ve lied to me—about everything—”
“No,” he says, all terror and desperation. “The only thing I’ve kept from you was the truth about your parents, I swear to you—”
“How could you keep that from me? All this time, all this—everything—all you did was lie to me—”
He’s shaking his head when he says No, no, I love you, my love for you has never been a lie—
“Then why didn’t you tell me this sooner? Why would you keep this from me?”
“I thought your parents had died a long time ago—I didn’t think it would help you to know about them. I thought it would only hurt you more to know you’d lost them. And I didn’t know,” he says, shaking his head, “I didn’t know anything about your real parents or your sister, please believe me—I swear I didn’t know, not until yesterday—”
His chest is heaving so hard that his body bows, his hands planted on his knees as he tries to breathe and he’s not looking at me when he says, whispers, “I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry.”
“Stop it—stop talking—”
“How—h-how can I ever—ever trust you again?” My eyes are wide and terrified and searching him for an answer that will save us both but he doesn’t answer. He can’t. He leaves me with nothing to hold on to. “How can we ever go back?” I say. “How can you expect me to forget all of this? That you lied to me about my parents? That you tortured my sister? There’s so much about you I don’t know,” I say, my voice small and broken, “so much—and I can’t—I can’t do this—”
And he looks up, frozen in place, staring at me like he’s finally understanding that I won’t pretend this never happened, that I can’t continue to be with someone I can’t trust and I can see it, can see the hope go out of his eyes, his hand caught behind his head. His jaw is slack; his face is stunned, suddenly pale and he takes a step toward me, lost, desperate, pleading with his eyes
but I have to go.
I’m running down the hall and I don’t know where I’m going until I get there.
This is agony.
This is what they talk about when they talk about heartbreak. I thought I knew what it was like before. I thought I knew, with perfect clarity, what it felt like to have my heart broken, but now—now I finally understand.
Before? When Juliette couldn’t decide between myself and Kent? That pain? That was child’s play.
This is suffering. This is full, unadulterated torture. And I have no one to blame for this pain but myself, which makes it impossible to direct my anger anywhere but inward. If I weren’t better informed, I’d think I were having an actual heart attack. It feels as though a truck has run over me, broken every bone in my chest, and now it’s stuck here, the weight of it crushing my lungs. I can’t breathe. I can’t even see straight.
My heart is pounding in my ears. Blood is rushing to my head too quickly and it’s making me hot and dizzy. I’m strangled into speechlessness, numb in my bones. I feel nothing but an immense, impossible pressure breaking apart my body. I fall backward, hard. My head is against the wall. I try to calm myself, calm my breathing. I try to be rational.
This is not a heart attack, I tell myself. Not a heart attack.
I know better.
I’m having a panic attack.
This has happened to me just once before, and then the pain had materialized as if out of a nightmare, out of nowhere, with no warning. I’d woken up in the middle of the night seized by a violent terror I could not articulate, convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was dying. Eventually, the episode passed, but the experience never left me.
And now, this—
I thought I was prepared. I thought I had steeled myself against the possible outcome of today’s conversation. I was wrong.
I can feel it devouring me.
I’ve struggled with occasional anxiety over the course of my life, but I’ve generally been able to manage it. In the past, my experiences had always been associated with this work. With my father. But the older I got, the less powerless I became, and I found ways to manage my triggers; I found the safe spaces in my mind; I educated myself in cognitive behavioral therapies; and with time, I learned to cope. The anxiety came on with far less weight and frequency. But very rarely, it morphs into something else. Sometimes it spirals entirely out of my control.
And I don’t know how to save myself this time.
I don’t know if I’m strong enough to fight it now, not when I no longer know what I’m fighting for. And I’ve just collapsed, supine on the floor, my hand pressed against the pain in my chest, when the door suddenly opens.
I feel my heart restart.
I lift my head half an inch and wait. Hoping against hope.
“Hey, man, where the hell are you?”
I drop my head with a groan. Of all the people.